CultFootball Film Session: Copa del Rey Clásico (Part 1)

April 22, 2011 — by Suman2

Sean’s excellent postgame analysis of Wednesday’s tense and memorable Copa del Rey final included the video of Sergio Ramos dropping la Copa under the bus.  Here is video from the match itself, followed by some micro-analyses of key sequences in the 1st half.  We’ll follow up with commentary on the 2nd half and extra time highlights over the next couple days.  Certainly prior to the next El Clásico (3 of 4)–back to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu on Wednesday, for perhaps an even bigger match–the 1st leg of the Champions League semifinal matchup.

Comments on 1st half highlights:

The first highlight (0:00-0:50 of the clip, 11′ of the match) illustrates Madrid’s quick counterattacking in the opening half.  The play is created in the initial 10 seconds–we suggest you watch that segment a few times: notice how Madrid left winger diMaria picks up the ball in a crowded space along the touchline and quickly splits a couple Barça defenders. In particular, he gets behind Barça’s attack-minded right wingback Dani Alves; the diMaria-Alves matchup on this side of the pitch is one to focus on.

Özil (#23) is initially standing inside towards the center, but as soon as diMaria breaks through, Özil sprints up the inside left channel, finding a seam of space in between Barcelona central back Pique (#3) and left wingback Adriano (#21).  It’s a great run by Özil, with credit also due to diMaria for slotting the ball through into Özil’s path.  Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo is initially on the far side of the field very close to diMaria, but he sprints behind Özil’s run into the empty space in the center–the space that’s opened up when Pique steps towards diMaria’s penetration and Adriano chases Özil across.

Turkish-German Özil vs Brazilian Adriano

Özil receives the through ball on the left flank, does a little pirouette, and chips the ball over and across onto Ronaldo’s foot–note how the ball floats just over the head of Pique.  The Catalan center back did well to recover towards the middle in an attempt to track Ronaldo’s run, but Özil’s ball was measured just right.  Just those few seconds–the run, the turn, the pass– show the creativity in Özil’s movement, vision and passing that’s earning him such as praise in his first year at Madrid.

With a better first touch CR7 should have created an excellent chance to score here.  Imagine how different the game would have been had he put Madrid up in the 11th minute–but his first touch betrayed him, and the ball skittered almost to the touchline.  Ronaldo did well to still put the ball on net, but from a sharp angle, and by that time Barça’s defense had recovered, and Mascherano cleared off the line.


Real Madrid Lay Hands on the Copa del Rey

April 21, 2011 — by Sean5

Less than a week after their hard fought tie in league play, Madrid and Barça met in the final of the King’s Cup. Mourinho sent his defensive set into the midfield again, then put in Özil from the start for an added touch of creativity in attack, and sprinkled the whole side with an extra dose of aggression dust.

The force of Madrid’s tackling and their quickness in closing down the Barça players immediately unstabilized the usually unflappable Blaugrana. On the strength of their defense and their quick counter attack, Madrid had far the better of the first half. Pepe seemed to be everywhere and Ronaldo did very well as the lone striker up top (even with Mascherano shadowing his every move). The game moved quickly up and down the pitch, but Barcelona weren’t finding any joy past the midfield circle and it wasn’t until nearly the 40th minute that they finally caused an overload close to goal (the chance fizzled without them manufacturing a shot).

Their one foray aside, Barcelona were lucky to get to the halftime whistle tied at zeroes, especially after Pepe’s towering header above Dani Alves smashed against the inside post and deflected at an agonizing angle across the goal mouth.

The second half was a different game entirely. Barcelona were rejuvenated by whatever spanking Pep Guardiola gave them in the dressing room, and they came out with the sort of belly fire you expect from the best team of their generation. Suddenly the game was stretched (in part because Madrid were pushing more into attack, but also because Xavi and Pedro were drawing out Pepe and Khedira more successfully) leaving Iniesta room to move through the middle.

It was in fact Iniesta who turned the game in Barça’s favor. In the first half, the playmaker forced passes into Messi and Villa only to find them sitting inside a trap. In the second half the tiny balding Spaniard held the ball and ran past the first defensive line of Madrid, then worked in closer proximity to his strikers so they could work the tiki taka. As soon as they found their rhythm the counter attack of Madrid started to look more like desperate clearing rather than pointed reply.

If not for Iker Casillas, Barça would have gone ahead in the second half, and considering the state of Madrid at the time they would probably not have found a way back. Spain’s number one tapped away a lovely chipped ball by Pedro and pushed aside an Iniesta strike destined for the corner.

It looked as if the game would head for extra time, until Madrid managed an odd man rush at the very end of the 90 minutes and di María found himself free to test Pinto from just outside the box. Valdés’s stand-in managed to palm the floating attempt above the bar and it was onto the next 30 minutes. More of the same for the most part. Hard tackling from Madrid but Barcelona with better control, though the chances had dried up.

Sergio "Butterfingers" Ramos drops the Copa del Rey under the party bus

Then just past the 100 minute mark Madrid found their way through the center of the pitch by way of another Pepe tackle. Marcelo swung the ball out to di María who got a toe in front of Alves to lift a far-side cross to the slicked head of Cristiano Ronaldo. The glistening head of the Portugese directed the ball past the unbalanced Pinto — Madrid 1 – 0 Barcelona.

Substitutions were made by both sides in the final fifteen minutes, but the score remained the same, and Real Madrid walked away with their first Copa del Rey in eighteen years. Then, Sergio Ramos dropped it under the party bus on the way back from the airport…


Marca on Madrid: “Con 10 Se Juega Mejor”

April 17, 2011 — by Suman1


We’ve been digesting Saturday’s Real Madrid-Barcelona 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu–just the first installment of this month’s 4-part El Clásico series; the second is coming up this Wednesday with the Copa del Rey final, to be contested on neutral turf–at the Mestalla in Valencia. In the meantime, it’s always entertaining to see how Madridista tabloid Marca spins the latest big result.

There’s much to savor in this cover. The screaming lead (“Con 10 se juega mejor”) seems pedestrian enough. Translating to “It’s better to play with 10” (or “We play better with 10”?), Marca is seemingly remarking simply that Madrid played better after losing Albiol to a red card and playing a man short for the final 40 minutes of the match.

But it turns out the headline may actually be an allusion to an aphorism attributed to the legendary manager Helenio Herrera–which leads to something of a Möbius strip of historical resonances: Herrera, nicknamed Il Mago (“The Wizard”), is best known for managing Barcelona (1958-1960) and subsequently Inter Milan (1960-1968).  His Barcelona sides successfully challenged the 5-time European champions Real Madrid on the domestic front. Then in Milan he gave birth to Catenaccio and led “La Grande Inter” to two consecutive European championships (1964 and 1965).  Inter didn’t conquer Europe again until last year–led by Jose Mourinho of course, defeating Barcelona along the way in the semifinal, which led to headlines such as “In José Mourinho Inter finally have a true heir to Helenio Herrera.”

(For more on Herrera, confer this post on The Equaliser (which also has a post about La Grande Inter); Chapter 9 of Simon Kuper’s Soccer Against The World, titled “A Day with Helenio Herrera”; the chapter of Jimmy Burns’s Barça: A People’s Passion covering Herrera’s tenure at Barcelona, titled “El Salvador”; or this post titled “The Really Special One – Helenio Herrera.”)

Back to the Marca cover: Mou(rinho)’s comment on the matter gets put across the top (“Me cansa jugar siempre contra ellos con diez jugadores” / “I am tired of always playing against them with 10 players”), and Marca asks whether the “roja directo” (straight red) for Albiol versus no yellow (“ni amarilla”) for Alves on the respective penalties represents a double standard (“¿doble rasero?”).

Of course it’s CR7 and Messi that dominate the image–another fine piece of photoshopping. Ronaldo striding with the ball, looking up, clawing at the air like some sort of big cat (perhaps an allusion to Mourinho’s hunting with cats?), while Messi shuffles behind him, eyeing the ball, looking disturbed/disturbing.

But we also rather like the little image of Guardiola and Mourinho inserted at the top: the two managers with their backs to each other, pistols in hand.  One round of the duel completed–three more to go.


Madrid open up and make a game of it, eventually

April 17, 2011 — by Sean1

Madrid's recycling midfield triangle.

The first of four meetings between these sides produced a magnificent game, but it was always going to be about how Madrid responded to Barcelona. It’s a shame then that Madrid were brought down to ten men and we didn’t see the fullness of Mounrinho’s second-half tactical shift.

Jose deployed a new formation yesterday evening, placing a tight triangle made from two defense midfielders and a center back smack in the middle of Barcelona’s attack. Alonso, Khedira and Pepe–yes, Pepe–rotated defensive and attacking duties amongst themselves, working in tandem to break up the passing game from Iniesta and Xavi, and when they won the ball one of them would spring forward into the attack. Very often it was Pepe, and though it seemed odd at first to see the holding back pushing into the opposing side’s penalty box, it soon became evident that the Portugese was the most dangerous man on the pitch.

Barcelona only once pulled their collapse and expand tactic (where they bring three players in attack close together, then one-touch to each other to lure in defenders before turning or passing beyond their now condensed markers) – usually reserved for moments when the defending team are hesitant to leave their defensive zones. This unique moment in the match speaks precisely to the way Madrid disrupted Barça’s usual attack. The visitors were allowed no time on the ball, and almost always forced to move the ball laterally or backwards. Their chances were rare while Madrid attempted to counter through their speedy wingers.

There were contentious moments of course. Adriano’s yellow in the 9th minute was very soft, and considering he was tasked with containing Ronaldo he’d have to be careful not to pick up a second. Villa went down in what could have been a penalty, though in replay it did look like he dragged his feet and went over before the Casillas made any bit of contact. But Albiol’s red was certainly justified after dragging down Villa in the box – the end of an odd play actually, as it’s rare to see Barça send a long ball up and over the defense, and the bounce found the Madrid defender out of position.

For forty minutes Madrid had to play a man and goal down, and it didn’t seem like they had a chance to come back. But it did feel like Mourinho had planned to lock down the defense before unleashing the team toward the end of the game, and it may have been more a matter of sticking to the game plan than responding to the losing position that caused him to bring on his German playmaker Özil. His addition plus the removal of Alonso for Adebayor injected a bit of danger into the Madrid attack, and even with ten men they started bringing the game to the champions.

In the 81st minute Madrid were given a lifeline, and just maybe they deserved it for the effort they put into the game (and for having had a ball cleared off the line and one struck against the post). They certainly deserved it for the foul, though on first look it didn’t seem to have been much – on closer inspection Alves clearly took out the trailing leg of Marcello. Ronaldo converted as Messi had done from the spot at the other end of the pitch, and 10 mintues of subsequent frantic attacking from both sides produced a number of chances that could’ve spelled heartbreak for either side.

Now the question remains, how will this game effect the meeting between the sides on Wednesday? Were the choices of players and tactics preferred considered just for this 90 minutes, or were there deeper, longer lasting ploys in effect? We can’t wait to see!


El Clásico x4 (part the first)

April 15, 2011 — by Sean

Is this the man to unlock Barça's defense?

There are a number of matches worth watching this weekend: the Manchesters facing off Saturday in the FA Cup semifinal is certainly worth your time, as are Udinese at Napoli and Arsenal hosting Liverpool on Sunday. But these games pale in comparison to the first of four el clásicos taking place over the next three weeks.

Saturday’s match at the Bernabéu won’t have quite the impact on the league table that Madridistas would’ve hoped for at the beginning of the season (specifically after that 5-0 spanking at the Camp Nou), but even with the league gone and the teams meeting in the Copa del Rey final next wednesday you can expect a full-blooded affair. Mourinho went full psychological battle this afternoon when he sat silently next to his assistant during a press conference, refusing to answer any questions himself. A classic tactic by the Portuguese, who prefers to draw attention to himself around big matches rather than leave his players open to excessive scrutiny.

As for fitness, Barcelona sorely miss Puyol and Abidal in defense and have looked vulnerable when teams have pushed past their high pressing midfield. Madrid have a few absentees in Lassana Diarra and Pedro Leon, but they do have Higuain and Benzema fit again, and Adebayor didn’t look half-bad against Spurs mid-week.

So which team is in better form? Through most of the season it was clearly Barcelona, but they’ve seemed a tad shaky of late while Madrid are looking pretty comfortable on the pitch. Madrid have also had an entire season to learn Mourinho’s defensive principles…then again Barça tend to have their way with what seem at the outset to be the most prepared of teams.

The key to a Madrid victory will be to limit Messi’s time with the ball. When his teammates have looked less than otherworldly this season, the little Argentine has stepped up his game to amazing levels. Very often it’s some combination of Iniesta and Xavi that pop open the defenses, with Messi finishing the movement, but Khedira and Alonso will collapse on them very quickly and it’ll be up to Lionel in isolation (and also finding Villa moving off the shoulder of his defender).

For Barcelona to walk away with the win they’ll have to retreat quickly when they lose possession (Madrid have a very quick counter attack) and not give Özil any time on the ball. The young German is a key link between back and front, and with him contained Barça can maintain their high pressing and look to turn the ball over quickly, as they do.

Though this isn’t necessarily the most popular prediction, both in the CultFootball offices and around the world in general, I think we’ll be looking at a 3-1 Madrid win. Truly this game could go either way. Both coaches are great tacticians, and both teams are really a joy to watch, but I’m a little tired of Barcelona’s dominance.


Barça over Madrid: Tiki-Taka To La Manita!

November 30, 2010 — by Suman3

"What did la manita say to Mourinho?"

If you didn’t get to watch, nor haven’t heard the news, the world did not end Monday night in Barcelona–although no doubt there are a good number of people in Madrid who would disagree, as the result was almost as surprising and devastating as the apocalypse itself.  5-0 for Barcelona.  Yes, 5-0.

We’ll be back up in here with additional commentary.  For now, we give you some video highlights (down below at the bottom), and direct you once again to read Sid Lowe (who provides the best commentary in English on La Liga, at least that we’ve come across).  His column this morning in the Guardian is headlined “Barcelona, the ‘Orgasm Team’, win another epoch-defining clásico” (you’ll have to read all the way to the bottom of the column for the orgasm allusion), with subhead: “It was not that they thrashed Madrid 5-0, defeated Mourinho and his unbeaten €292m team. It was that they did it their way.”  And his first five paragraphs are devoted to explaining la manita:

Eric Abidal raised his hand. Gerard Piqué raised his. And the crowd that engulfed Jeffren Suárez raised theirs. Víctor Valdés raised his hand, latex glistening in the light. Soon the Camp Nou raised its hands. So did the fans that gathered down the Ramblas – palms open, fingers outstretched as if willing the nails to grow. Not far away, a hand was raised on the front cover of Sport. On the back, their cartoonist was taking the easy way out. “Today, instead of drawing,” he wrote, “I have decided to scan my hand.” So he did.

El Mundo Deportivo: "Super Manita!"

Meanwhile, right about the time Andrés Iniesta was posting pictures in his pants, in a warehouse somewhere they were already rushing off a batch of T-shirts to go with the Barça tupperware, Barça knives and Barça tool set. Blue and yellow and yours for just €9.95. On the back it reads: “great theatre”. On the front it doesn’t read anything much. Just the dateline and the score from last night’s clásico between FC Barcelona and Real MadridCamp Nou, 29/11/2010. 5-0. And, above that, a giant yellow hand.

Jeffren’s late goal made little difference, but it made all the difference. Madrid were already being humiliated. José Mourinho, already suffering his worst ever defeat as a coach, felt “impotent”, barely moving as fans chanted for him to “come out the dugout! José, come out the dugout!” It was already 4-0 and into additional time and Almería’s Henok Goitom,thrashed 8-0 by Barcelona last weekend, had long-since noted: “I know how you feel: you just want the game to finish.” But the game had not finished, not yet. The fifth goal had to arrive and when it did, it mattered. It turned a baño – a bath, a drubbing – into a manita, a little hand. A goal for every finger. The most perfect of beatings.

Especially for Barcelona. Because if manitas are symbolic in Spain – and even fans of Racing Santander have their T-shirt – in Barcelona there’s something even more emblematic about them. If Abidal didn’t know exactly what the gesture meant, Piqué, son of a Barça director and asoci from birth, certainly does. Last week, after that win in Almería, Cristiano Ronaldo had shrugged: “I’d like to see them get eight on Monday.” They could have done and eight would have been great, but somehow five, while fewer, feels more fitting today.

When El Mundo Deportivo called it a Super Manita, everyone in Catalunya knew what they were measuring it against. This was the fifth time Barcelona had defeated Real Madrid 5-0. Beyond 1934-35 and 1944-45, two linger in the memory: the 1973 team led by Johan Cruyff the player and the 1994-95 Dream Team led by Cruyff the coach. No one could watch last night and not recall Cruyff. Or Romário. Just in case, television programmes drew on the archive. Last night two epoch-defining victories became three.

See below for the best video clip we’ve found so far on footytube.  At least you get to see all five goals, although not much more, and with commentary in German.  Hopefully we’ll find some more extensive game film, and break down how exactly Barça was able to tiki-taka it’s way to la manita.

UPDATE: Via footytube, a 26min highlight reel from the French Canal+, hosted by the somewhat sketchy-seeming


El Clásico Starting XI’s & Squad Lists

November 29, 2010 — by Suman

We find it useful to have full squad lists in front of us while watching a match. Find below Real Madrid’s and Barcelona’s, pulled from Wikipedia (with links conveniently preserved, so that you can click thru to each player’s entry), as well as each team’s starting XIs for today’s El Clasico.

Spain's Starting XI - World Cup 2010 (Casillas, Iniesta, Villa, Xavi, Puyol; Pedro, Busquets, Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Capdevila, Pique

Spain obviously dominates the squads–but Barcelona’s much more than Madrid’s. In fact, Barcelona’s starting lineup consists of the core of Spain’s World Cup winning lineup (Pique, Puyol, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro Villa), with a couple wingbacks slotted in (Dani Alves certainly; and either Abidal, Maxwell or Adriano on the other side)–plus Messi front and center.

The other Spanish starters start for Madrid: Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos.  (Well, 7+3=10; the one missing Spanish starter from this match is Joan Capdevila, who plays for Villareal.)  The rest of Madrid’s starting lineup is pulled from Portugal (Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe), Germany (Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira), Argentina (Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria) and Brazil (Marcelo).  Although today we get Benzema (France) starting in place of Higuain due to injury.

Full squad lists:


El Clásico TODAY!

November 29, 2010 — by Suman2

The game we’ve all been waiting for kicks off in just over an hour (3pm ET, 9pm local time–at the Camp Nou).  El derbi español, “más conocido como El Clásico“–Barcelona vs Real Madrid, which also means: Catalans vs Castilians, L’Equip Blaugrana vs Los Blancos, La Masia vs Los Galacticos, Los Cules vs Los Madridistas, regionalism vs centralism, Cryuff vs Franco, Guardiola vs Mourinho, Messi vs Ronaldo.

It’s no wonder that Sid Lowe saw the need to talk us down from all the El Clásico hype–before talking it up:

Contrary to what you might have heard, the world will not end on Monday night. The sun will rise on Tuesday morning. And there is life beyond the clásico. It’s just that right now, it doesn’t feel like it — it feels like nothing else matters, like no other games exist, like no other teams do. Every year Barcelona versus Madrid, already the biggest club game in world soccer, seems to get bigger. Even the old title seems worthless now. Derby? No thanks, this is the clásico. It’s even moved on from that. Now it’s the Super Clásico. Carry on like this and soon we’ll run out of superlatives.

And it’s certainly superlative. It’s almost ridiculous….Whichever way you look at it, this is probably the most extraordinary club match there has ever been. Until the next time, at least.

In terms of talent per square meter, you could argue that there has never been a game like it. It is possible that no two teams have ever dominated the planet’s talent like Barcelona and Madrid do now.

To get a better idea of how all that talent will matchup on the field today, take a look at this, which lists five key matchups to watch (1. Carles Puyol/Daniel Alves vs Cristiano Ronaldo/Ángel Di Maria; 2. Javier Mascherano or Sergio Busquets vs Mesut Ozil; 3. Ricardo Carvalho/Pepe versus David Villa; 4. Sami Khedira vs Xavi Hernández; 5. José Mourinho vs Pep Guardiola); or this, which gives a longer and largely different list of matchups–but closes with the same managerial matchup:

"Por que tu es un canalla"

José Mourinho vs. Pep Guardiola from the sidelines, in the locker rooms, in front of the press, and on the training pitch. The Special One is the best in the world outside of Pep or Sir Alex at this point in time. But, it’s hard to pick a clear favorite here being that Mourinho won a Treble last year, while Guardiola won six trophies the season before. Last year, Mourinho won-out eliminating Barcelona from the Champions League. Has Guardiola learned from that lesson? I think he has. However, I see this coaching-bout being a draw between Emperor Mourinho Palpatine and Pep Skywalker Guardiola.

That latter preview also mentions each side’s most-used formations (4-2-3-1 for Real Madrid, 4-3-3 for Barcelona’sand For more on tactics, see Zonal Marking’s detailed tactical preview, which includes the probable starting lineups shown below. For squad statistics, play around with’s nice interactive graphic.

FC Barcelona (blue) vs Real Madrid (white)

And for an idea of the historical context surrounding El Clásico, take a look at this column from 2002 by Phil Ball (who wrote Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football):

Not only is the dislike between the two clubs an interesting phenomenon in sporting terms, it also has implications that stray deeply into the sociology and politics of the country. It might not be going too far to say that the strife and struggles between the two clubs from 1905 onwards accurately mirror the very essence of twentieth-century Spanish history. The two cities have always been moving in different directions, partly through bloody-mindedness, partly through political allegiance, but mainly through clear cultural differences.

A supporter of Real Madrid seems a very distinct creature from a supporter of Barcelona, a fact that cannot be attributed wholly to the fact that they probably talk about football in a different language. Madrid is a bourgeois, grand, rather suffocating sort of city on first acquaintance. The surrounding countryside is bleak and bare, – suggestive of some harshness in the citizens. To an outsider it is not a welcoming city – its taxi drivers grumpy and sullen, its waiters coldly efficient, its shops too self-consciously trendy. Madrid was built on and is sustained by the notion of centralisation – in this century exemplified by Franco’s obsessive opposition to regional nationalism, which he regarded as one of the principal reasons for the turmoil of Spain’s ill-fated second republic.

Madrid was symbolically in the geographical centre of the country, put there by Felipe II in the mid-sixteenth century. It is part and parcel of the Madrid-Barcelona morbo that the latter seems to inhabit a different planet. Despite the fact that Madrid has the Prado, the seat of government and the royal family, according to John Hopper’s book The New Spaniards almost all the ideas that have shaped Spain’s modern history – republicanism, federalism, anarchism, syndicalism and communism – have found their way into Spain by way of Catalonia.